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Bezos’s Washington Post Licenses Its Publishing Technology to BP

Gerry Smith
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Bezos’s Washington Post Licenses Its Publishing Technology to BP

(Bloomberg) -- Every two weeks, Jeff Bezos holds a meeting with Washington Post engineers in part to discuss a product called Arc, which helps companies publish online. The software is a growing part of the Post’s business -- albeit less visible than its scoops about the Trump administration.

Now, Arc is expanding into a new market, striking a deal with its first nonmedia customer: BP Plc. The energy giant’s communications team will use Arc’s software to publish articles and videos to its 70,000 employees across 250 internal websites, newsletters and a future mobile app.

“We realized that many large companies are essentially publishers,” said Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher.

Post executives say Arc’s suite of tools makes it easier for companies to post on different platforms -- including apps, mobile websites, newsletters and social media -- and make money through advertising or subscriptions.

The Post created the Arc licensing business in 2014 by giving what had been its newsroom’s proprietary software away free to college newspapers. Its customer base has expanded to media companies that run more than 600 websites globally, including the Boston Globe, Tribune Publishing Co. and Raycom Media Inc. Now, the Post sees a chance to license its software to companies beyond the media industry.

Surging Sales

Arc has about 250 employees, with many engineers working out of an office in Chicago. Its sales tripled from 2016 to 2017 and then more than doubled the following year. Within the next three years, Arc expects to generate $100 million in annual revenue, said Shailesh Prakash, chief information officer and vice president of product at the Washington Post. Arc isn’t yet profitable, Prakash said, but he sees it becoming the Post’s third major revenue stream.

“I’m very confident this will be comparable to our advertising and subscriptions business,” Prakash said.

Arc is one of a few companies that sell publishing technology. One of them is WordPress.com, whose parent company, Automattic Inc., raised $300 million this month from the tech giant Salesforce.com Inc. Vox Media Inc., owner of the Verge, Eater and Recode websites, licenses its publishing platform, called Chorus, to media outlets such as the Ringer, led by Bill Simmons.

Arc has an advantage, Prakash said, because it is tied to Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud computing operation, Amazon Web Services, and is built by the Washington Post.

“We have cranky journalists who demand and use this every day, so there’s nowhere for me to hide,” Prakash said.

Strategic Decisions

Prakash said he often talks to Bezos about strategic decisions with Arc and has showed him demos of the software. Bezos recently suggested that Arc switch to a serverless architecture that has made the product faster and cheaper to run, he said.

Having Bezos as an owner has also helped the Post recruit and retain engineers, Ryan said.

“You could be a top engineer at any one of the major tech platforms, but it would probably be unlikely that you’d be engaging with the CEO of that company on any regular basis,” Ryan said. “But here, you have these engineers who roughly every two weeks are engaging with Jeff Bezos, one of the leading technologists of our time.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gerry Smith in New York at gsmith233@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, John J. Edwards III

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